Monday, October 28, 2013

Thrift Store Adventures

                Since childhood I have always loved going to thrift stores.  My reasons have changed over the years- When I was small my favorite thing was to empty the box of second hand toys in the creepy back room of the Salvation Army and play with all of them for what seemed like hours, only interrupted when Mom came back to pull me away into a changing room to try on all the clothes she’d picked out while I was occupied.  When I was a teenager my focus shifted to the music and literature sections for cheap 45 rpm records and paperbacks.  Later still, I found that thrift stores were a great resource for trench coats.
                These days I’m drawn to thrift stores for the more adult reasons of filling gaps in my wardrobe for cheap, but also just for the sheer fun of seeing what I can find.  Jess and I are fortunate to live near several thrift stores but our favorite is AmVets, which has by far the lowest prices and the best selection of obscure stuff you could ever hope to find.  It’s the only thrift store I’ve ever been to that’s had an antique arc welder available, and oh hey, who needs a motorcycle seat? 

 It's for exactly this reason that I’ve wanted to document one of our AmVets excursions for some time now, and I finally did earlier this week when we went out with my sister Anna.  There were of course the usual shenanigans; Anna briefly entertained the notion of dressing up as Bill Cosby for Halloween,  Jess fanned herself with sophistication, and I found something sharp and heavy which I wasn’t sure what to do with. 

Jess kept telling me to put it back.  Killjoy.
                Then I paid a visit to the place where they keep all the figurines.  I always like visiting this section because sometimes you can pose or head-swap them, which entertains my childish side to no end.  I found some soulless ice skaters and some weird looking elves.  Unsettling, sure, but unfortunately not really anything I could mess with.

I also found the back half of an elephant, though, so there's that. 

                We did find a couple of treasures, too.  Sitting among several knick knacks, I found a three-deck Canasta set, which I snapped up quickly.  I don’t know how to play Canasta, but I have vivid memories of card boxes very similar to this at my grandma’s house, and it sort of called to me (anyone who is familiar with my obsession with clocks will understand why).  Plus, it was only ninety nine cents!  
[Insert Macklemore soundclip here]

                The other treasure we found tucked way in the back, past all the obsolete computer parts and the miscellaneous power tools:  
  Know what that is?  It’s a centrifuge, complete with biohazard warning on the front!  I’m tempted to ask where they find this stuff, and though I’m certain the answer has something to do with the surrounding college, hospital, and combinations of the two, it still doesn’t really explain who would donate a piece of lab equipment like this, nor why they would price it at just under seven dollars.  So, does anybody need a cheap centrifuge?  Because I know where you can find one.

(NOTE: At the time of this posting, these events took place almost exactly a week ago.  We have another AmVets excursion planned for this Tuesday.  Hopefully the next post won’t take me so long to finish.)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Flash Fiction Piece: The Motion of the Earth

Another week, another flash story I wrote a while ago and never showed anyone.  I hope I finish something new soon, I'm beginning to worry I'll run out of these.

      A quarter of a mile from the tip of the massive slope where my family’s house was, we’d abandoned our antique runner sleds to frolic in the snowdrifts.  She’d been talking almost nonstop about something she’d seen on the internet so I pegged her with a snowball.  Her rambling turned into amused shrieks as we flung bits of hard packed snow at each other’s heads.  She chased me out into the field, heaving a collection of hard chunks the snow plow had left behind.  I ran away from the path laughing and she followed, childish threats issuing carelessly from her mouth.  Our legs burned and we collapsed breathless into the snow.  I rolled onto my back, the snow cradling my body better than any memory foam mattress ever could.  My breath joined the clouds, excess heat was leeched from my coat, and I was left motionless and perfectly neutral.  I could have stayed like that forever.  I could have become the Ice Man, and I wouldn’t have minded.
      “…and yeah, it’s understandable that she was angry, and the reporter shouldn’t have been bugging her like that, but her son was right there.  She should have shown more restraint.”
      It could have been seconds later, or it could have been hours.  Either way, I hadn’t been listening.  “Mm hmm.”
      “And of course all her fans were cheering for her, and it was kind of funny to see her go nuts like that, but I couldn’t help but think, like, what kind of example is she setting for him?”
      “Uh huh.”
      “You know?”
      “Mm hmm.”  I could see her out of the corner of my eye, kneeling in the snow, playing with a pile of snow, packing it into itself.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky.  I was moving, the earth was moving, and the clouds were standing still.
      “I guess you could say she was just standing up for herself, and yeah, that’s a valuable thing to know, but you don’t teach it to a kid by just attacking a reporter out of—”
      “Hey Em.”
      “Come over here and lie down for a minute.”
      She hesitated a moment then moved over to where I was.  She let herself fall down in the snow next to me and propped herself up on her elbow, her scarf-wrapped face looming over mine. 
      “No, on your back,” I said.
      She looked at me like I was crazy but did it anyway, and suddenly she was part of the earth, like me.  The sky was motionless with us moving.  The air was silent except for our breathing.
      “What am I supposed to be looking at?” she asked.
      “That,” I said, pointing up at nothing in particular. 
      “What?  That cloud?”
      “No, just that.”  I held my breath and listened.  There was nothing to hear, and it was perfect. 

      “I don’t get it,” she said.  I wasn’t surprised.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Flash Fiction Piece: She Called Me Sweetheart

It's been a week and I feel overdue, so here's another flash fiction story.
I am working on something not-flash-fiction-y, but it isn't done yet.  Hoping it'll be the first of many installments, but we'll see where it goes.  Anyway, enjoy!

      It was about ten in the morning, maybe ten fifteen or so.  I had Modest Mouse going on my mp3 player.  I’m on my way to God don’t know, my brain’s the burger and my heart’s the coal.  I was wearing my ratty winter coat and a bandana on my head, even though it was too cold for that.  I had my guitar strapped to my back and I was heading to my buddy Jim Walker’s house.  We were going to jam before we had to perform that evening; we’d never done an acoustic set before and we wanted to get some practice in.
      It was bright and crisp, the air was biting my ears.  There were two people ahead of me across the street.  I could see them silhouetted against the sunlight reflecting off the side of the Catholic church.  One of them was spinning around, arms wide, holding something small with handles.  It looked like one of those cases the Mormon missionaries carried their scripture in.  I thought they were Mormon missionaries at first and almost waved to them.  I’d met them going that way before so it wouldn’t have surprised me.  One of them had offered me a card, but I declined.  I was a member already, they just hadn’t met me yet.  We had a good laugh about it afterwards.
      The spinning one had a ponytail.  It was a woman with a purse, and so was her companion.  Definitely not the Mormons.  They were both wearing black jackets which could have been leather.  They weren’t white women, but they weren’t black either.  I’m bad with ethnicities.  The spinning one stopped, facing me.  She yelled something across the street and her friend looked at her.
      I pulled one of my earbuds out.  “Wuwazat?”
      “I say, sweetheart, you have a kind of cigarette on you?”
      I shook my head.  “Nah, sorry.”  I don’t smoke.  It’s a filthy habit.  Did I look like I smoked?  I carry a lighter, but not for cigarettes.  If she’d asked for a light, I would have obliged.  I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, I hate the smell of cigarette smoke, but I would have done it, even if one of us had to cross the street. 
      “Shit.”  She turned back around and kept walking.  I heard the two women start talking again as I put my earbud back in.  I don’t know what they were saying.  For a moment I entertained the notion that they were talking about me, but I’m sure they weren’t.  I was just a means to an end.  She wanted a cigarette and I didn’t have one. 
      But she called me “sweetheart.”
      I went on my way and met up with Jim at his house.  He opened the door and smiled.  “Hey man, how’s it going?”  He stepped aside to let me in.
      “Not too bad,” I replied.  “Some lady asked me for a cigarette.”
      Jim just shrugged and looked at me, waiting for me to tell him more, like my story wasn’t finished. 
      “Yeah… I don’t know,” I muttered.  He laughed. 
      We played our instruments together for most of the day, then headed to the gig around six.  Our act went over well, even better than we would have hoped.  The whole crowd clapped enthusiastically for us at the end of each song.  When we were done with our set, they called for an encore.  We hadn’t had anything planned, so I stepped up and did a cover of the song “I Save Cigarette Butts” by Daniel Johnston.  They really seemed to like it.  People approached us as we were packing up and told us that we sounded really good and they liked our music. 
      That night, after I got home, I played the song again.  I save cigarette butts for a poor girl… across town… 
      She wasn’t anyone I knew or recognized, I’d never seen her before and I knew I’d never see her again, but I was still thinking about her.  She called me “sweetheart.”  I was certain she’d forgotten about me.  Maybe I’ll go out and buy a pack of cigarettes just to have on me in case somebody asks.  I doubt the missionaries would like that.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Flash Fiction piece: Jefferson and Wade

          I wrote this during my last semester in college.  It was kind of a weird time for me.

     The giant tar ball had been growing steadily since it had pushed its way out of the sewer at eight o’clock that morning.  It had pushed against the grating, lifting it up from the bottom; it was too thick to ooze through the slots.  That was how it started, as a small mound of thick, heavy tar pushing its way out from the ground in the middle of the intersection.  It didn’t stink, it didn’t make any gross noises.  By twelve o’clock it had blocked the entire intersection, going from diverting traffic to the sidewalks, then to the lawns and plazas around nearby office buildings, finally stopping the traffic altogether.  The police got involved, establishing detours for people to travel on to avoid the giant tar ball, and to keep back the crowds of onlookers and allow room for the firefighters who had been called to rescue some foolhardy folks who had (for some reason) tried driving through the ball and gotten hopelessly stuck not a tenth of the way through.  A haz-mat team was called at one point to see what they could make of the tar ball.  However there wasn’t anything toxic about it.  It was just a very big, very sticky glob of a black, tar-like substance expanding slowly out over the intersection of Jefferson and Wade.
      Naturally, this worried a large number of people who realized that if this continued the tar ball would engulf the city in a matter of days.  Some chose to leave the city, packing up their cars or renting trailers or moving vans to carry the things they couldn’t do without.  They went in all directions, an unofficial evacuation to wherever.  More people stayed in their homes, barricading doors and windows and watching the thing expand on the news.  Still more, however, decided to picket the Mayor’s office with signs hastily crafted from brooms and poster board, under the misguided assumption that the Good Mayor knew exactly how to stop it and was just choosing not to.  By two o’clock there were over a thousand people outside the mayor’s office with signs that read “LESS BLOB, MORE JOBS” and “BAN THE BALL,” scrawled across them in sign marker.  The police were called, though none came— they were too busy trying to control the even larger crowds gathered around the still-swelling tar ball.  A local environmentalist group, firmly convinced that the pollution they’d been warning everybody about for the past ten years was finally manifesting itself (albeit in a very strange manner), and joined the crowd around the mayor’s office, introducing their own signs, which they had apparently been saving for a moment such as this.  They brought with them megaphones and shouted slogans about protesting oil spills.  Meanwhile, the mayor was sitting in his office, not knowing what to do besides trying to reassure everyone (via television and radio, because the people outside were certainly not going to listen) that everything was going to be alright.  After all, the rest of the city was perfectly normal despite a slight increase in traffic.  It was just the intersection of Jefferson and Wade that had been blocked by the giant tar ball.  The picketing persisted. 

      At four o’clock, the tar ball stopped expanding.  It had rolled slowly across the signs and sidewalks, the small trees and carefully manicured lawns until it had reached the walls of the buildings that lined the streets.  At that point it stopped, and at 4:08 pm precisely it began to recede, and for the next four hours it slipped back into the sewer at twice the rate it had expanded.  Back, over the lawns and walkways, pulling up the grass and dirt as it went, stripping leaves and branches off the small trees, uncovering flattened trash cans and street signs and the two or three unlucky vehicles that it had caught and stopped and rolled over.  By 8:15 that evening, the tar had completely disappeared, leaving nothing but its wreckage and a ring of very confused onlookers in its wake.